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By E. W. Kemble (1861–1933) - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

15 Psychological Conditions Named After Literary Characters

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By E. W. Kemble (1861–1933) - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

If you’re a chemist and you make a crucial discovery, chances are they’ll name the particle or compound after you. But psychologists have always had a liberal arts flair when it comes to their discoveries. Serious psychoanalysts like Sigmund Freud and pop psychologists alike have used fictional characters from their favorite stories to describe all sorts of mental conditions. Here are 15 of those literary psych disorders. You’ll probably grow out of that Alice in Wonderland or Peter Pan syndrome, but if you’re suffering from Rapunzel syndrome, please: see a doctor.


Huckleberry Finn syndrome is sometimes used as a loose term for childhood truancy—think unruly kids "going out on the raft to go fishing," or, perhaps more likely these days, kids staying in to play video games. But it also appears in books as a psychodynamic complex. In The Dictionary of Modern Medicine, J.C. Segen explains that it often begins as youthful rebellion but evolves into "frequent job changes and absenteeism as an adult." It’s thought to be a response to parental rejection, or deep-set feelings of inferiority and depression.


In 1955, John Todd and Kenneth Dewhurst published a paper detailing the so-called "Othello syndrome." This Shakespearean moniker referred to "a dangerous form of psychosis … [whose] central theme consists in a delusional belief in infidelity of the spouse." If you’ll recall from high school English class, Othello murders his wife, Desdemona, because he irrationally believed she’d had an affair. Some studies suggest this affliction is most common among older men with a neurological disorder, rather than a psychiatric one. It can lead people to kill their partners or, at the very least, subject them to lie detector tests.


If you’re a glass-half-full kind of person, someone has probably described you as "a Pollyanna," in reference to Eleanor H. Porter’s sunny children’s literature heroine. But some psychologists also use the term "Pollyanna syndrome" to refer to an unrealistic, even dangerous optimism. One study suggests it can negatively impact disabled patients and their families.


Just like Oscar Wilde’s vain creation Dorian Gray, people who suffer from this body dysmorphic disorder have an "obsessive preoccupation with physical attractiveness." They do not handle aging well, and frequently turn to plastic surgery, anti-impotence drugs, or hair plugs to preserve their youth for as long as possible.


Colette Dowling popularized the term "Cinderella complex" in 1981 with her book of the same name. It described a uniquely feminine condition in which women subconsciously fear independence. As Dowling explained, "Women are brought up to depend on a man and to feel naked and afraid without one… The Cinderella Complex leads to inappropriate or ineffectual behavior on the job, to anxiety about success, to the fear that independence will lead to loss of femininity." This hidden desire for dependency leads afflicted women to seek out a male partner (or "prince") to whisk them away to a figurative castle and dispatch their problems (i.e. evil stepsisters) for them along the way.



Depending on who you ask, a "Superman complex" may refer to one of two things. If you ask Dr. Fredric Wertham, the psychiatrist who infamously condemned comic books to a Senate subcommittee in 1954, it’s a damaging condition under which one enjoys fantasies "of sadistic joy in seeing other people repeatedly punished while the hero remains immune." But he’s generally considered a loon today, so you should probably ask Max Carey. Carey wrote The Superman Complex, a book which seeks to diagnose overachieving workers in danger of burning out. According to Carey, people with a Superman complex tend to think they can solve any problem and sacrifice any amount of sleep or food to get the job done. As you might imagine, they’re also manipulative, narcissistic, and difficult to work with.


"Sleeping Beauty syndrome" is the catchier, Disneyfied name for a rare neurological disorder known as Kleine-Levin Syndrome (KLS). The condition is associated with excessive episodes of sleep that can last for weeks. Any regular activities stop during these episodes; KLS patients can do little more than sleep, eat, and go to the bathroom for the duration of the bout. They may also appear "spacey" and act confused when they are actually awake. Hypersexuality is another symptom. Treatment is tricky for KLS, but its episodes tend to get less frequent after 8 to 12 years.


The most famous of all the literary-inspired psychological disorders, an Oedipus complex occurs when a son has feelings of desire for his mother, and feelings of contempt for his father (or, in his mind, his rival). Sigmund Freud borrowed the name of Sophocles’ tortured Oedipus Rex protagonist to describe this condition, which he viewed as a normal stage of childhood. Carl Jung later came up with the companion "Electra complex" for girls.


Anyone who’s watched a Judd Apatow movie is well-acquainted with Peter Pan syndrome. Those who have it simply refuse to grow up. They may not don a green cap and attempt to fly, but in their quest to avoid adulthood, they might set impossible goals, abuse alcohol and drugs, and/or lazily search for jobs. Although Peter Pan syndrome is not studied widely, as it is not an officially recognized psychopathology, researchers believe it affects men more than women, and that overprotective parents can play a role in its development.



Munchausen syndrome was the old name for what we now call factitious disorder. Those diagnosed with the disorder trick others into thinking they’re sick… by causing the symptoms themselves. Their ultimate goal is sympathy, and in order to make their story more believable, they might sign up for painful procedures or even secretly injure themselves. The original name comes from Baron Munchausen, a fictional German nobleman who told wild lies about his achievements. The character was created by writer Rudolf Erich Raspe and was loosely based on a real aristocrat.


Individuals diagnosed with Alice in Wonderland syndrome (AWS) have a serious problem with perception. Essentially, everyday life for them is like those "Eat Me" and "Drink Me" scenes from Alice in Wonderland: objects appear to be impossibly small or frighteningly large. The disorder primarily affects children and no treatment is currently available. But AWS tends to fade away as kids grow up, usually around their late teens.


As you might recall, Ophelia is Hamlet’s distressed girlfriend in Shakespeare’s famous tragedy. Dr. Ian Carr borrowed her name for a neuropsychiatric disorder he discovered in his own teenage daughter. First he noticed that some of the "sparkling precision of her conversation" had vanished. Then she started experiencing memory loss, hallucinations, and depression. The mental disorder, they discovered, was spurred by Hodgkin's lymphoma. Its successful treatment restored Carr’s daughter neurologically, for the most part—except she had a large gap of months missing from her memory. Subsequent studies found that patients with Hodgkin's lymphoma often experienced similarly bizarre personality changes prior to detection.


The "Bambi complex" isn’t listed by the American Psychiatric Association. Rather, it’s a pop psychology label given to people with overly sentimental attitudes toward wildlife. Environmental historian Ralph H. Lutts used the term in his essay "The Trouble With Bambi," which argued that the Disney movie (which was based on a book) presented a nature fantasy that unfairly demonized hunters.



As described by Arpad Pauncz in "Psychopathology of Shakespeare’s 'King Lear,'" the so-called Lear complex is a riff on the Oedipus complex, except the father is the one sexually attracted to his daughter. This was a reference to Lear’s weird fixation on his youngest daughter, Cordelia.


Rapunzel was known for letting down her hair, but those who suffer from "Rapunzel syndrome" eat theirs. This exceedingly rare—and exceedingly gruesome—condition is the result of a combination of trichotillomania (the compulsion to pull out one’s hair) and trichophagia (the compulsion to eat one’s hair). The consumed hair accumulates into a ball in the stomach, which leads to a whole slew of digestive problems. Just this year, doctors removed two substantial hairballs from the stomach and small intestine of a 38-year-old "Rapunzel" in Arizona. According to the BBC, hers is only the 89th reported case.

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12 Surprising Facts About Bela Lugosi
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Mabel Livingstone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

On October 20, 1882—135 years ago today—one of the world's most gifted performers was born. In his heyday, Bela Lugosi was hailed as the undisputed king of horror. Eighty-five years after he first donned a vampire’s cape, Lugosi's take on Count Dracula is still widely hailed as the definitive portrayal of the legendary fiend. But who was the man behind the monster?


To the chagrin of his biographers, the details concerning Bela Lugosi’s youth have been clouded in mystery. (In a 1929 interview, he straight-up admitted “for purposes of simplification, I have always thought it better to tell [lies] about the early years of my life.”) That said, we do know that he was born as Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó on October 20, 1882 in Lugoj, Hungary (now part of Romania). We also know that his professional stage debut came at some point in either 1901 or 1902. By 1903, Lugosi had begun to find steady work with traveling theater companies, through which he took part in operas, operettas, and stage plays. In 1913, Lugosi caught a major break when the most prestigious performing arts venue in his native country—the Budapest-based National Theater of Hungary—cast him in no less than 34 shows. Most of the characters that he played there were small Shakespearean roles such as Rosencrantz in Hamlet and Sir Walter Herbert in Richard III.


The so-called war to end all wars put Lugosi’s dramatic aspirations on hold. Although being a member of the National Theater exempted him from military service, he voluntarily enlisted in the Austro-Hungarian Army in 1914. Over the next year and a half, he fought against Russian forces as a lieutenant with the 43rd Royal Hungarian Infantry. While serving in the Carpathian mountains, Lugosi was wounded on three separate occasions. Upon healing from his injuries, he left the armed forces in 1916 and gratefully resumed his work with the National Theater.


In December 1920, Lugosi boarded a cargo boat and emigrated to the United States. Two years later, audiences on the Great White Way got their first look at this charismatic stage veteran. Lugosi was cast as Fernando—a suave, Latin lover—in the 1922 Broadway stage play The Red Poppy. At the time, his grasp of the English language was practically nonexistent. Undaunted, Lugosi went over all of his lines with a tutor. Although he couldn’t comprehend their meaning, the actor managed to memorize and phonetically reproduce every single syllable that he was supposed to deliver on stage.


The year 1927 saw Bela Lugosi sink his teeth into the role of a lifetime. A play based on the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker had opened in London in 1924. Sensing its potential, Horace Liveright, an American producer, decided to create an U.S. version of the show. Over the summer of 1927, Lugosi was cast as the blood-sucking Count Dracula. For him, the part represented a real challenge. In Lugosi’s own words, “It was a complete change from the usual romantic characters I was playing, but it was a success.” It certainly was. Enhanced by his presence, the American Dracula remained on Broadway for a full year, then spent two years touring the country.

Impressed by its box office prowess, Universal decided to adapt the show into a major motion picture in 1930. Horror fans might be surprised to learn that when the studio began the process of casting this movie’s vampiric villain, Lugosi was not their first choice. At the time, Lugosi was still a relative unknown, which made director Tod Browning more than a little hesitant to offer him the job. A number of established actors were all considered before the man who’d played Dracula on Broadway was tapped to immortalize his biting performance on film.


The recent Twilight phenomenon is not without historical precedent. Lugosi estimated that, while he was playing the Count on Broadway, more than 97 percent of the fan letters he received were penned by female admirers. A 1932 Universal press book quotes him as saying, “When I was on the stage in Dracula, my audiences were composed mostly of women.” Moreover, Lugosi contended that most of the men who’d attended his show had merely been dragged there by female companions.   


Released in 1931, Dracula quickly became one of the year's biggest hits for Universal (some film historians even argue that the movie single-handedly rescued the ailing studio from bankruptcy). Furthermore, its astronomical success transformed Lugosi into a household name for the first time in his career. Regrettably for him, though, he’d soon miss the chance to star in another smash. Pleased by Dracula’s box office showing, Universal green-lit a new cinematic adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Lugosi seemed like the natural choice to play the monster, but because the poor brute had few lines and would be caked in layers of thick makeup, the actor rejected the job offer. As far as Lugosi was concerned, the character was better suited for some “half-wit extra” than a serious actor. Once the superstar tossed Frankenstein aside, the part was given to a little-known actor named Boris Karloff.

Moviegoers eventually did get to see Lugosi play the bolt-necked corpse in the 1943 cult classic Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. According to some sources, he strongly detested the guttural scream that the script forced him to emit at regular intervals. “That yell is the worst thing about the part. You feel like a big jerk every time you do it!” Lugosi allegedly complained.


It’s often reported that the two horror icons were embittered rivals. In reality, however, Karloff and Lugosi seemed to have harbored some mutual respect—and perhaps even affection for one another. The dynamic duo co-starred in five films together, the first of which was 1934’s The Black Cat; Karloff claimed that, on set, Lugosi was “Suspicious of tricks, fearful of what he regarded as scene stealing. Later on, when he realized I didn’t go in for such nonsense, we became friends.” During one of their later collaborations, Lugosi told the press “we laughed over my sad mistake and his good fortune as Frankenstein is concerned.”

That being said, Lugosi probably didn’t appreciate the fact that in every single film which featured both actors, Karloff got top billing. Also, he once privately remarked, “If it hadn’t been for Boris Karloff, I could have had a corner on the horror market.”


In 1935, Lugosi was named Honorary President of the Los Angeles Soccer League. An avid fan, he was regularly seen at Loyola Stadium, where he’d occasionally kick off the first ball during games held there. Also, on top of donating funds to certain Hungarian teams, Lugosi helped finance the Los Angeles Magyar soccer club. When the team won a state championship in 1935, one newspaper wrote that the players were “headed back to Dracula’s castle with the state cup.” [PDF]


Lugosi's fourth wife, Lillian Arch, claimed that Lugosi maintained a collection of more than 150,000 stamps. Once, on a 1944 trip to Boston, he told the press that he intended to visit all 18 of the city's resident philately dealers. “Stamp collecting,” Lugosi declared, “is a hobby which may cost you as much as 10 percent of your investment. You can always sell your stamps with not more than a 10 percent loss. Sometimes, you can even make money.” Fittingly enough, the image of Lugosi’s iconic Dracula appeared on a commemorative stamp issued by the post office in 1997.


The role of Count Dracula in this 1948 blockbuster was nearly given to Ian Keith—who was considered for the same role in the 1931 Dracula movie. Being a good sport, Lugosi helped promote the horror-comedy by making a special guest appearance on The Abbott and Costello Show. While playing himself in one memorable sketch, the famed actor claimed to eat rattlesnake burgers for dinner and “shrouded wheat” for breakfast.


Toward the end of his life, Lugosi worked on three ultra-low-budget science fiction pictures with Ed Wood, a man who’s been posthumously embraced as the worst director of all time. In the 1953 transvestite picture Glen or Glenda?, Lugosi plays a cryptic narrator who offers such random and unsolicited bits of advice as “Beware of the big, green dragon who sits on your doorstep.” Then came 1955’s Bride of the Monster, in which Lugosi played a mad scientist who ends up doing battle with a (suspiciously limp) giant octopus.

Before long, Wood had cooked up around half a dozen concepts for new films, all starring Lugosi. At some point in the spring of 1956, the director shot some quick footage of the actor wandering around a suburban neighborhood, clad in a baggy cloak. This proved to be the last time that the star would ever appear on film. Lugosi died of a heart attack on August 16, 1956;  he was 73 years old.

Three years after Lugosi's passing, this footage was spliced into a cult classic that Wood came to regard as his “pride and joy.” Plan 9 From Outer Space tells the twisted tale of extraterrestrial environmentalists who turn newly-deceased human beings into murderous zombies. Since Lugosi could obviously no longer play his character, Wood hired a stand-in for some additional scenes. Unfortunately, the man who was given this job—California chiropractor Tom Mason—was several inches taller than Lugosi. In an attempt to hide the height difference, Wood instructed Mason to constantly hunch over. Also, Mason always kept his face hidden behind a cloak.


Although Lugosi resented the years of typecasting that followed his breakout performance in Dracula, he asked to be laid to rest wearing the Count’s signature garment. Lugosi was buried under a simple tombstone at California's Holy Cross Cemetery.

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The First Known Uses of 6 Common Typographic Symbols
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Many of the most common symbols on our keyboards have fascinating origin stories. Some, such as the zero, we now take for granted—yet the idea of denoting an absence of value was not present in Western mathematics until introduced from the East. Other symbols, such as the hashtag or at-sign, had a variety of uses until the internet ushered in a new way of communicating and fixed them with the meanings we know today. Below are six examples of the first known usage and subsequent history of some of the most common typographic symbols.

1. AT SIGN // @

The @ (or at-sign) is usually dated to 1536 in a letter from a Florentine merchant, Francesco Lapi, who used it to mean a unit of wine called “amphorae.” But a Spanish researcher claims to have found an even earlier usage in a 1448 document, where the symbol also referred to a unit of measurement (even today, Spaniards call the @ symbol arroba, which is also a unit of weight, and some other Romance languages have similar dual meanings). Either way, the researchers think that the symbol then moved to Northern Europe, where it eventually gained the meaning of “at the price.” Other explanations have also been offered, but whatever the exact root of the symbol, its meaning eventually became known as shorthand for at, and it was generally used in written financial transactions—for example, in noting “Bob sells James 4 apples @ $1.”

The sign had largely fallen out of use by the early 1970s, when computer scientist Ray Tomlinson was working at what is now BBN Technologies, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Tomlinson, who was working for the government on a forerunner of the internet, was trying to figure out how to address messages sent from one computer to another when he noticed the little-used @ on his computer keyboard, and used it to send a prototype email. This precedent was soon adopted as the internet developed, and the at-sign is now, of course, central to our lives.

2. ZERO // 0

The absence of a value is a complex concept, one that many ancient civilizations struggled with. The idea of a zero ultimately came to the West from the mathematicians of India, where, as in a few other cultures, zero was initially used as a placeholder, for example to indicate a lack of units, as in the number 101.

The earliest surviving usage of a zero in India has been traced to an ancient mathematical text known as the Bakhshali manuscript, which is held at Oxford’s Bodleian Library. In September 2017, radiocarbon dating indicated that the manuscript was produced as early as the 3rd or 4th century—providing us with the first known usage of zero some 500 years earlier than previously thought. As Oxford’s Bodleian Library says, “the symbol in the Bakhshali manuscript is particularly significant for two reasons. Firstly, it is this dot that evolved to have a hollow centre and became the symbol that we use as zero today. Secondly, it was only in India that this zero developed into a number in its own right, hence creating the concept and the number zero that we understand today."

The manuscript itself was discovered buried in a field in 1881 in what is today Pakistan. Written on 70 delicate leaves of birch bark, historians think it represents a training manual for Silk Road traders, teaching them concepts of arithmetic.

3. HASHTAG // #

Hashtag on an old typewriter key

The origin of the hashtag (or pound sign as it's traditionally known in the U.S.) comes from scribes writing shorthand for the Latin libra pondo, which translates as "pound by weight." The abbreviation they used was lb, which was sometimes misread as 16. So, scribes took to drawing a line through the top of the two letters, which over time developed into the now familiar #. In the 1960s, the pound sign was chosen by Bell Laboratories to be a function key on their newly designed telephone keypad. (The Bell Labs team fondly nicknamed the symbol the “octothorpe,” possibly in honor of athlete Jim Thorpe.) Fast-forward to 2007, when early Twitter users wanted to be able to group and filter their feeds, so developer Chris Messina suggested they appropriate the method used in IRC (Internet Relay Chat) whereby users employed the pound sign or "hashtag" to signpost what they were chatting about. (Programmers knew the symbol as the hash, which was now being used to "tag" content.) This simple method soon caught on, and today the hashtag has become indelibly linked to the rise of social media.

4. ELLIPSIS // …

Originally, periods of silence were marked textually with a series of hyphens, but today the symbol of choice is the , a.k.a. the ellipsis. Dr. Anne Toner of Cambridge University spent years researching the ellipsis and finally discovered what she thinks is its first use—an English translation of Roman dramatist Terence’s play Andria printed in 1588. Although the play used hyphens instead of dots, the general idea caught on rapidly. (Toner notes that although there are only four “ellipses” in the 1588 translation, there are 29 in the 1627 version.) By the 18th century, dots started to replace the dashes, which an assistant professor from Southeastern University suggests may be connected to a medieval piece of punctuation called subpuncting or underdotting, which generally indicated something was incorrectly copied.


Ampersand symbol on an old metal block

The ampersand originated in Latin when the word et (meaning and) was written in cursive script as a ligature (in which one or more letters are written together as a single glyph). One of the earliest examples was found daubed in graffiti on the walls of a house in Pompeii, where it was preserved by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE. By the 8th century the ampersand became a recognizably distinct character, but the word ampersand did not come into use until the late 18th/19th century, when English school children would recite "and per se and" meaning “and by itself means and” to help remember the symbol (per se being Latin for "by itself"). One of the most thorough investigations into the typographic history of the ampersand comes courtesy of German graphic designer Jan Tschichold, who in 1953 published The am­persand: its ori­gin and de­vel­op­ment, in which he collected numerous examples of the ampersand from the 1st century onwards, visually charting its developing form.

6. PLUS SIGN // +

A variety of ceramic plus signs

The plus sign used for addition in mathematics likely derives from a shorthand ligature for the Latin et meaning “and” and was probably in use for a long time before a surviving example appeared in print. One candidate for the earliest surviving usage is in French philosopher and polymath Nicole Oresme's Algorismus proportionum, a manuscript handwritten between 1356 and 1361, although scholars debate whether it's a true plus symbol. The first use of a plus sign in a printed book is more definitive, and can be found in a 1489 edition of Johannes Widmann’s Mercantile Arithmetic. Widmann also uses the minus sign for the first time in print in this volume—although both plus and minus signs relate not to addition and subtraction but to surpluses and deficits in business accounting. After this usage, the plus sign began to appear more frequently in German mathematical texts, and first appeared in an English text in 1557 in Robert Recorde’s The Whetstone of Witte—which also introduced the equals sign.


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